Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Wicked One

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 1, 2011

  Brew and Paul are fifty-year old fraternal twins, both physicians; they  have no other siblings and their parents have always been married to each other. They live on opposite ends of the country.  Their mom died of cancer two years ago. Their dad, Stewart,  is still living, at age eighty-seven, but he has multiple medical problems. Recently, Stewart had a severe hypertensive episode, requiring immediate hospitalization. Brew, the brother that lives in the same city as Stewart, attended to him and reported his impressions to his brother Paul. Paul, as he usually does, demeaned Brew, and told him that his ideas and thoughts were “simply wrong.” Paul continued to say that Brew was not being a good son, because a good son would go out and buy Stewart new books so he would have something to do in the hospital. Brew hangs up the phone with Paul, partly devastated and partly feeling that familiar family dynamic where Paul is the “know-it-all” and Brew is a slow-thinking, barely capable person who only succeeds because he works so hard, not because he has a good intellectual functioning. Brew feels that Paul is the “wicked one,” because Brew has felt put down by Paul his entire life.  Brew knows that Paul is thinking about Stewart from a distance and that is very different from eyeballing Stewart. “It takes gall for Paul to comment on my dad’s condition, without laying eyes on him,” Brew tells me, and I agree.  

     Despite the fact that they are fraternal twins, their mother always treated Paul like he was the older and wiser child. Brew was treated like he was not very “smart” or at least no where near as smart as Paul; at the same time Brew was told that if he worked hard enough he could compensate for not being so smart and thereby still accomplish in the same way that Paul would. Brew took this message as a challenge, such that Brew worked very hard to go to medical school, since he knew that Paul was headed in that direction. As his mother told him, Brew believed it was his hard work, not his sharp mind, that got him to progress professionally. Paul believed this too. Over the years, Paul has frequently attacked Brew with the notion that he was not “smart” so his ideas are not as good as Paul’s. In so doing, Paul seemed to feel that he won the favoritism of his mother and his father. Further, Paul seemed to be in constant fear of losing his perch, such that he seemed to keep reminding Brew, and his parents that he was the “better” child. The most egregious example of this came about twenty years ago when Brew’s young wife died quickly from a malignant brain tumor. Brew was heart-broken and he felt the need for his family. Paul attended to their mom, as she was understandably distraught, but Paul never paid much attention to Brew around this tragic event. After that, Brew felt he got clarity about his relationship with Paul; there was no relationship. In his time of need, Paul evaporated. Brew felt that to be unforgiveable. Brew also understood that Paul’s behavior stayed remarkably consistent. Paul maintained the life-long battle of fighting to have the most attention from his mom and his dad. When Paul attended to his mom when Brew’s wife died, he also prevented their mom from attending to Brew. The tragedy became the mother’s tragedy, not Brew’s tragedy; at least that is how it felt to Brew.

   Now that Brew and Paul have to tend to their ailing father, Brew understands, but is still hurt, that Paul’s behavior seems to once again be an attempt to show that their father loves him more. “It is sad” Brew tells me. “One day our father will pass on, and there will be this deep hurt between us.” “Yes, that is very sad,” I say, reinforcing that sometimes, not very often, sibling rivalry is so severe that the competition for attention never stops, thereby prohibiting a closeness in the siblings. In that sense, the outlook looks grim. On the other hand, Brew’s recognition of the problem helps him take Paul’s behavior less personally, and allows Brew to see himself in a way that is very different from how Paul sees him. That process has been exciting and painful at the same time. Brew may call Paul the “wicked one” but unlike in the past, Brew does not have  to feel bad about himself. As Brew was growing up, it did mean that. Time, maturity and psychotherapy have changed things. Brew is grateful. I am privileged to play a role.

2 Responses to “The Wicked One”

  1. Shelly said

    My admiration for you and psychiatrists in general always increases after reading your blogs. While I always feel that everyone else’s lives are perfect and only mine is chaotic and stressed, I see that that is truly not the case and that behind closed doors, family issues and life’s struggles are similar everywhere. How you deal with them amaze me. And for those of us who don’t have therapists or shrinks to help us over the rough spots, friendships will do the same…..

  2. Shirah said

    Thanks….and with deep regard for the value of friendships, it is very difficult and unusual for friends to help friends see how relationships become distortions of a person’s desire for love and admiration. In this case, they hypothesis is that Paul so desperately wants to be loved that he feels that he must verbally assasinate Brew so that he can be the only one his parents could possibly admire. A therapist can help Brew understand this dynamic whereas a friend would have a hard time describing that dynamic-generally speaking of course.

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